Dubai censor cuts scenes of labour abuse from 'Syriana'

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The Independent Online

It may try to market itself as one of the more tolerant Gulf states, but authorities in the United Arab Emirates have cut a number of scenes from Syriana over fears that the Oscar-winning film starring George Clooney is too realistic in its depiction of Arab states mistreating poor migrant workers.

When the film opened last week, two minutes of footage showing Asian oil workers in an unspecified Arab country being fired and later beaten by police as they queued for work were noticeably absent from cinemas in Dubai.

Both scenes revolve around a key character, Wassim, a young Pakistani migrant worker who, angered by the way workers from the Indian subcontinent are treated, joins an Islamic terrorist group and becomes a suicide bomber. References to the Bin Laden family and the late Saudi King Fahd were also cut.

Aleem Jumaa, head of the Dubai censorship office, said: "We would never allow anything that is disrespectful to the country or the president, causes security problems, insults religions, exhibits immorality like nudity or promotes vices like alcohol and drugs."

Human rights groups have frequently condemned the authorities in Dubai and neighbouring Arab states for the poor conditions migrant workers live in. "One of the world's largest construction booms is feeding off workers in Dubai, but they're treated as less than human," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The censorship comes at a sensitive time for the authorities in Dubai, where violent illegal strikes by construction workers last month revealed the less glitzy side of the country's booming economy.

The Gulf states regularly censor or ban books and films deemed too socially or politically sensitive. This week the distributor for Brokeback Mountain, the Oscar-winning film depicting a love affair between two cowboys, said it had shelved plans to show the film in the Gulf, where homosexuality remains illegal.